Vela, Isidro (1796–1862)

By: Juan O. Sanchez

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1996

Updated: May 27, 2017

Isidro Vela, rancher and judge, was born in Mexico on May 14, 1796, to Estevan Vela and Maria Manuel Cuellar. He was baptized eight days later in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Isidro married Maria Bernarda Valdez at the church of Nuestra Señora del Refugio in Guerrero Viejo on April 29, 1816. The family expanded to include Saturnino in 1830, Manuela in 1831 and Genoveva in 1834. The family relocated to Texas and welcomed Jesusa in 1836, Julian in 1838, and Cleofus in 1840. He identified as a farmer in the 1850 census as a landowner in Cameron County, and owned land in the western part of Starr (later Zapata) County. He served as president of the secessionist meeting held in Zapata County in December 1860. Sentiments in the area were split between the small landowning minority and the large impoverished elements. Vela, like the rest of the landowners, strongly supported secession. Pro-Union sentiment among Hispanics, derived from hostility against local Anglos, placed Vela and other landowners at a numerical disadvantage. They also continuously faced problems generated by Juan N. Cortina and his followers. On April 12, 1861, Vela confronted a band of armed Tejanos under the leadership of Antonio Ochoa, a follower of Cortina who threatened county officials that supported the Confederacy. Vela was able to dissuade the band from taking any action. Ochoa and his men, however, issued a pronouncement against the Confederacy and demanded of Judge Vela that it be forwarded to the United States. Guerrilla warfare became a feature of the region as pro-Union, anti-Anglo bands staged raids into Texas and retreated into Mexico. In the latter half of 1861 one of these bands under the command of Octaviano Zapata attacked Vela's ranch, El Clareño. Forced to leave his ranch, Vela sought refuge at Henry Redmond's ranch at Carrizo. On December 26, 1862, a band of about 100 men crossed the river and attacked Vela's ranch. He was captured and hanged in the presence of his family, and the raiders left a placard that threatened to kill anyone who lowered the body. Nonetheless, the family buried him on April 14, 1863, at Rancho del Tepozan, which was owned by Saturnino Vela. Capt. Refugio Benavides pursued the raiders and defeated them in Mexico near Camargo. Among papers seized in the battle were documents that implicated Leonard Pierce, Jr., as an instigator of the raid.

Jean Y. Fish, Zapata County Roots Revisited (Edinburg, Texas: New Santander Press, 1990). Virgil N. Lott and Mercurio Martinez, The Kingdom of Zapata (San Antonio: Naylor, 1953). Jerry Don Thompson, Vaqueros in Blue and Gray (Austin: Presidial, 1976). Jerry Don Thompson and Lawrence T. Jones III, Civil War & Revolution on the Rio Grande Frontier: A Narrative and Photographic History (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2004). Jerry Don Thompson, Cortina: Defending the Mexican Name in Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Juan O. Sanchez, “Vela, Isidro,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022,

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February 1, 1996
May 27, 2017

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